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Education Scribner outlines State of Education in Fort Worth as $750M bond proposal...

Scribner outlines State of Education in Fort Worth as $750M bond proposal goes to voters

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Paul Harral
Paul is a lifelong journalist with experience in wire service, newspaper, magazine, local and network television and digital media. He was vice president and editor of the editorial page of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and editor of Fort Worth, Texas magazine before joining the Business Press. What he likes best is writing about people in detail and introducing them to others in the community. Specific areas of passion are homelessness, human trafficking, health care and aerospace.

2017 Fort Worth ISD Bond Proposal

Election Day: Tuesday, Nov. 7

Early voting: Oct. 23-Nov. 3

Proposition A: Authorizing the Fort Worth Independent School District to move 2 cents of its tax revenue from debt service to maintenance and operations.

Proposition B: Approval of a $750 million bond program for construction, instruction and infrastructure repairs and improvements.

Current tax rate: $1.352 per $100 of assessed property valuation: a $1.04 rate for Maintenance and Operations (basically, everyday needs) and a $0.312 Principal & Interest rate used to pay outstanding debt.

Increased tax rate: None

Voter information: www.fwisd.org/Page/12664

Source: Fort Worth Independent School District

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Scribner outlines State of Education in Fort Worth

Paul K. Harral

pharral@bizpress.net

Fort Worth ISD Superintendent Kent Scribner described the state of Fort Worth schools and how a proposed bond issue on the November ballot could help meet both present and future needs at the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce’s State of Education luncheon Oct. 13.

“Fort Worth ISD is no longer focused on high school graduation as the goal,” he said. “Our goal is to prepare all students for success in college, career and community leadership.”

Scribner, who earned a doctorate in educational leadership and policy studies from Arizona State University, was hired by the Fort Worth Independent School District’s Board of Education in October 2015.

The bond election is set for Nov. 7, with early voting from Oct. 23 through Nov. 3. The bond proposals would not increase the district’s tax rate.

“This is the first time I can remember that voters have the opportunity to approve significant support for our schools with no property tax rate increase,” said board president Tobi Jackson, who represents District 2.

The bond election is the result of more than a year of study by a communitywide advisory group made up of educators, parents and community leaders who evaluated Fort Worth ISD campuses and the district’s capacity to prepare students for success.

A thorough assessment of the district’s needs to create the kind of learning environment to prepare all students for success in college, career and community leadership found that it would take $1.6 billion to meet those needs.

“We can’t afford to fix everything today,” Scribner said. But what the trustees are proposing will make a serious dent in that figure and will not mean a rise in the property tax rate, he said.

Fort Worth is one of the fastest growing cities in the nation. The district’s student enrollment is nearly 87,000 and by 2020 it’s expected to be as much as 90,000. The district has about 11,000 employees.

“This bond will influence Fort Worth for decades to come through updating facilities and aging infrastructure to provide our students and employees with state-of-the-art facilities where learning will instill strong leadership skills in our youth, our future leaders,” Jackson said.

In the most recent school bond election in May 2013, voters passed three propositions by roughly 72 percent to 28 percent, with 22,807 voting.

In Texas, school taxes consist of two parts: one is a maintenance and operations part that means just what it says. The second part is for debt payment – money schools use to pay back bonds. But state law allows the possibility to swap money between the two funds.

The current bond proposal has two propositions on the ballot. In Proposition A, voters are asked to agree to move 2 cents per $100 from the debt service portion of the funds into the maintenance and operations part of the funds. That’s referred to as a “penny swap.”

The language on the sample ballot for Proposition A ¬may confuse some voters. It reads: “Approving the ad valorem tax rate of $1.3520 per $100 valuation in Fort Worth Independent School District for the current year, a rate that is $0.02 higher per $100 valuation than the school district rollback tax rate, for the purpose of maintenance and operations.”

Proposition A seems to be asking voters to raise the tax rate by 2 cents, Jackson said. She said it is important that voters understand that the tax rate remains unchanged and all that is happening is moving 2 cents from one fund to another. By law, the school district has to ask voter permission to increase the maintenance and operation rate.

“Proposition A is tax-neutral and will not result in a tax rate increase,” she told the Fort Worth Business Press.

Proposition B asks voters to approve the $750 million bond proposal itself. It is dedicated primarily to meeting growth needs, including new schools and classrooms and making critical upgrades to existing high schools. The school district says that overall, only 7 percent of the total bonds proposed would go to athletics improvement, included an addition of athletic facilities at the new Benbrook Middle-High School.

What is also important to note is that approval of both Proposition A and B will not increase the tax rate, currently set at $1.35 per $100 of assessed evaluation.

“Proposition A is the ‘penny swap’ tax authorization and Proposition B is the $750 million bond proposal,” Scriber told the chamber luncheon. “And remember $750 [million] chips away at that $1.6 billion in need.” And it will open the district to state funds that are not now available.

“If we do that, we’ll raise $3 million here locally and the state will give us $8.5 million to match that $3 million, so it’ll be $11.5 million for each penny we’re proposing,” he said. “We believe that is a responsible way to invest in our students.”

The district in able to do that, Scribner said, because its property values are strong and its bond rating is AAA. “It’s much like in your personal life,” he said. “If you have a good credit score, sometimes the interest rate will decrease so you could move some of your money that you’re currently paying for debt over into the maintenance and operation portion.”

Scriber also provided a quick overview of the school district at the State of Education event, noting that the district is focusing on three goals: early literacy, middle years math, and college and career readiness.

Early literacy: Students learn to read through third grade and then they start reading to learn. “We know it’s extremely important that we build a base, a foundation if you will, for students to be successful.”

Middle years math: Freshman algebra is a benchmark. “The correlation between D and F rates in freshman algebra, at any high school or a district, typically are very close to the dropout rate. We want to make sure that we’re attending to that.”

College and career readiness: Two-thirds of the jobs in North Texas that pay a family-sustaining living wage require more than a high school education – they require a two-year degree, certification or licensure, or four-year degree. “A family-sustaining wage requires a post-secondary degree.”

The trend is positive in Fort Worth, Scribner said.

The Fort Worth district has 143 schools and four years ago, 28 were underperforming. Today, he said, 13 are. “We’re going from 28 campuses four years ago, to single digits next year on our way to zero underperforming schools,” he said.

In any city – Dallas, Houston, Chicago, Los Angeles etc. – the percent of third-grade students reading at their grade level in the large public school districts correlates with the college graduation rates.

“Two years ago, we were 29 percent,” Scribner said. “We’re on our way to 34 percent. We’ve leapfrogged San Antonio and Dallas on our way to the 40s next year and beyond.” The goal is 100 percent of third graders reading at grade level by 2025 as part of a larger community initiative called “Read Fort Worth” that brings together city and corporate leaders.

The number of students passing freshman algebra last year was 77 percent. That increased this year to 83 percent, he said. “That’s something we want to get into the 90s so that our students are graduating at a higher rate.”

Scholarships earned by the district’s graduates also are up. “Two years ago, our students were earning $36 million in merit scholarships [a year]. That number has more than doubled today to $65 million,” Scribner said.

The state of education in Fort Worth is a key economic driver, said Brandom Gengelbach, executive vice president of economic development for the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce.

“When we go out to tell our story to a company, education is something they look very closely at,” he said. “If we can show them what Fort Worth ISD is doing, that the trends are moving in the right direction, that gives us a strong story to tell.”

“If authorized, the bond program could address the significant growth in our city with the construction of new schools and additions, as well as improve aging facilities and complete deferred maintenance,” said Jackson.

Scribner says he can’t tell people how to vote. He can only make the case and then ask that people do vote.

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